What do I need to know about feeding my baby during the first year of his or her life?

Nutrition during the first year of your baby’s life is important for proper growth and development. Starting good eating habits at this early stage will help set healthy eating patterns for life. Feeding should be based on your infant’s readiness, feeding skills and developmental age.
Here are some suggestions to help you feed your baby.

How often should I feed my baby?

Babies know when they are hungry or full. Feed your baby every time he or she is hungry. Breast-fed infants should breastfeed eight to12 times a day, approximately 10 to 15 minutes per breast at each feed. Formula-fed infants should be fed six to10 times a day, including overnight. Adding foods to a bottle, such as rice cereal, to make your baby sleep at night isn’t recommended. This can cause excessive weight gain and decrease important nutrient intake. It can also be a choking hazard.

As your baby starts eating solid foods, he or she will drink less. Slowly increase the amount of solid food you offer and decrease the amount of breast milk or formula. Remember, all foods should be offered by spoon and not in the bottle.

How do I know when my baby is hungry or full?

Babies can cry or be fussy because they are hungry, tired, upset, uncomfortable, or need a diaper change or to be burped. Some general signs that your baby is hungry include the following:

  • Smacking lips.
  • Grabbing for or leaning toward breast or bottle.
  • Pointing at spoon, food or feeder’s hand.
  • Moving hands to mouth and sucking his or her own hands.

When hunger cues are missed, babies tend to get upset, with fussing or crying. It is important to try to catch hunger cues to make feedings more enjoyable for both the baby and the caregiver.

Some signs that your baby has had enough to eat include:

  • Pulling away from bottle, spoon or breast.
  • Falling asleep.
  • Changing position, shaking head, keeping mouth closed tightly moving hands actively.
  • Handing food back to the feeder.

How do I know when my baby is ready for solid food?

Many healthcare providers recommend that you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months of life. However, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding, your baby may be ready to start solid foods between four and six months.

Every baby develops differently, so here are signs to look for to know your baby is developmentally ready for solid food:

  • Baby can sit upright with little or no support in the high chair.
  • Baby has good head control for long periods of time.
  • Baby is hungry for more nutrition after eight to 10 breastfeeding or 32 ounces of formula.
  • Baby shows interest in what you are eating.
  • Baby readily opens mouth to accept the spoon feeding.

For children with special needs, speak with your child’s healthcare provider or therapists about seating/adaptive feeding. Please speak with your healthcare provider and/or dietitian if your baby was born early.

What guidelines should I follow when feeding my baby?

A few simple guidelines you should follow when you are feeding your baby in the first year can include:

  • Start with small amounts of new solid foods — a teaspoon at first and slowly increase to a tablespoon. The goal for feeding is one small jar (four ounces or a cup) of strained baby food per meal.
    Start with dry infant rice cereal first, mixed as directed, followed by vegetables, fruits, and then meats.
    Always introduce one new “single-ingredient” food at a time. Wait three to five days before introducing another new food to assess for possible allergic reactions, such as diarrhea, vomiting or a rash. If any reaction occurs, stop feeding the new food and call your pediatrician.
  • If you’re making your own baby food, it is recommended to use pureed peas, pureed corn and sweet potatoes. Don’t add salt, sugar or other flavorings. It’s recommended to avoid homemade spinach, beets, green beans, squash and carrots, since they contain nitrates, which can cause anemia (low blood count). However, commercially prepared versions have been tested for nitrate content. Fresh foods spoil faster than commercially prepackaged baby food.
  • Meats and vegetables contain more nutrients per serving than fruits or cereals.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not giving fruit juices to infants younger than 1 year old. Only pasteurized, 100% fruit juices (without added sugar) may be given to older babies and children, but should be limited to 4 ounces a day. Dilute the juice with water and offer it in a cup with a meal.
  • Healthy babies usually require little or no extra water, except in very hot weather. When solid food is first fed to your baby, extra water is often needed.
  • When your baby can bring his or her hands and objects to the mouth (typically around 9 to 12 months), you can slowly decrease mashed/baby foods and offer more finger foods. A child will typically self-feed from 9 to 12 months, and will not use a fork or spoon until after 12 months of age. Cut food into small pieces to prevent choking.
  • Limit meal time to 15 to 20 minutes and reduce distractions such as watching TV.
  • Most infants should eat three to six times a day (three meals and two to three snacks).
  • Good foods for your baby include foods rich in energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as:
    • Meat.
    • Poultry.
    • Fish.
    • Colorful fruits.
    • Vegetables.
  • Foods to avoid include:
    • Spicy, salty and sugary foods.
    • Foods that may cause choking like nuts, seeds, popcorn, chips, pretzels, raw fruits (apples), raw vegetables (carrots), raisins, whole grapes, hot dog pieces and sticky foods such as marshmallows.

Additional tips:

  • Don't warm your baby's bottle or food in the microwave, as it can burn the baby's throat or mouth. Instead, warm bottles in a pan of warm water or under a stream of warm tap water. Shake the bottle after warming to be sure the milk or food is heated evenly.
  • Always feed your baby in an upright position with a spoon. For children with special needs, speak with your child’s healthcare provider or therapists about seating/adaptive feeding.
  • Don't let your baby fall asleep with a bottle. The milk collects in the baby's mouth and may cause tooth decay and choking. This can also lead to ear infections.
  • You should not give your baby solid foods in a bottle. This may cause choking or overeating, and it may slow your baby's development of feeding skills.
  • Cow's milk shouldn't be added to the diet until your baby is age 1. Cow's milk doesn't provide the proper nutrients for your baby.
  • Don't give your child honey in any form during your child's first year. It can cause infant botulism (a condition caused by a toxin).
  • Help your baby to give up the bottle by his or her first birthday.
  • Always watch a young child while he or she is eating. Insist that the child sit down to eat or drink.
  • Postponing the introduction of highly allergenic foods, such as peanuts, eggs and fish, hasn't been shown to prevent eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis and food allergy. In fact, early introduction of certain foods, such as peanuts and eggs, might decrease the risk of allergy to that food.

Typical Portion Sizes and Daily Intake for Infant’s Age

0 to 4 months

  • Breast milk or infant formula (2 to 4 ounces); Feedings per day: eight to 12.

4 to 6 months

  • Breast milk or infant formula (6 to 8 ounces); Feedings per day: four to six.
  • Infant cereal (1 to 2 tablespoons).

6 to 8 months

  • Breast milk or infant formula (6 to 8 ounces); Feedings per day: three to five.
  • Infant cereal (2 to 4 tablespoons).
  • Crackers (2); bread (1/2 slice).
  • Juice or water (0 to 3 ounces).
  • Fruit or vegetable (2 to 3 tablespoons).
  • Meat or beans (1 to 2 tablespoons).

8 to 12 months

  • Breast milk or infant formula (6 to 8 ounces); Feedings per day: three to four.
  • Cheese (1/2 ounce) or yogurt (1/2 cup).
  • Infant cereal (2-4 tablespoons); bread (1/2 slice); crackers (2); or pasta (3 to 4 tablespoons).
  • Juice or water (3 ounces).
  • Fruit or vegetable (3 to 4 tablespoons).
  • Meat or beans (3 to 4 tablespoons).

While babies do not need additional water or juice for hydration, it is recommended to provide some in a cup to help with transition off the bottle, which is recommended at 12 months. If you have any questions about your baby’s diet and nutrition, talk to your pediatrician or a dietitian. They can help you form a healthy plan for your child.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/17/2020.


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